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Safer Options, Contextual Safeguarding and Extrafamilial Harm

Keeping children safe in our communities

This strategy aims to set out the partnership’s vision and plan for improving safeguarding children in our communities. For the first time it brings together a cohesive approach to significant harm in our communities.

Safeguarding Children and Young People in our Communities Strategy 2020-2022

Safer Options 

The co-ordinated whole system response to prevent serious youth violence and exploitation in Bristol

Safer Options is the name we give to a co-ordinated whole system response to prevent serious youth violence and exploitation. Safer Options is every intervention and change made intentionally by communities, professionals and organisations to contribute to reducing serious youth violence and exploitation. Safer Options is designed to support what changes we make which are most likely to reduce and prevent serious violence in the city sustainably.

Bristol’s Safer Option Hub

The Safer Options Hub is the name of the team of specialist practitioners whose job it is to support change across the partnership system. It is made up of the Safer Options Manager; CSE Social Worker; Contextual Safeguarding Social Worker; Reducing Offending of Children in Care Practitioner; Missing Engagement Practitioner and Police Intelligence Investigator.

Safer Options Team Structure

The team do not have children allocated to them but they may offer some specialist interventions to pilot new ways of working and joint work with social workers to support a specific piece of complex work. The team can offer training, consultation and advice including attending strategy and risk management meetings and systemic group supervision about situations. They offer support to Service Managers who are coordinating Complex Strategy meetings.

There are also specialist roles funded as part of Safer Options in Bristol's locality services who can be asked to be part of a response for a child or group of children. These include the Education Inclusion Managers, Youth Justice Prevention Practitioners and Senior Youth and Community Practitioners. 

Safer Options Meetings

Safer Options Meetings are the weekly multi-agency meetings which happen in each of the three locality social work teams to coordinate our resources to reduce exploitation and serious violence. The meetings should focus on places, peer groups and prevention not planning for individual children. The meetings are chaired by the Area Deputy Service Manager in partnership with the Safer Options Manager and Area Families in Focus Manager. The meetings are attended by representatives from across the partnership.

Download the Safer Options Meeting Terms of Reference

Download Safer Options Meeting Agenda

Can I refer a child to Safer Options?

You cannot ‘refer a child or family to’ Safer Options, but there may be resources that Safer Options Hub can broker or advice and support that can be accessed to enhance a plan for a group or individual. If you want discuss a child with Safer Options or ask them to provide a briefing or training to the service you can email them at

Safer Options Practice Model

Safer Options Practice Model Diagram

Bristol Safer Options practice model integrates a public health response to reducing serious violence and exploitation and contextual safeguarding. Both of these approaches seek to increase the impact of interventions by creating change in places, peer groups and community. A public health response tackles the underlying causes of exploitation and serious violence and gets the maximum benefit for the largest number of people. This means that the Safer Options partnership focus resources on preventing school exclusion, reducing weapon carrying, disrupting perpetrators of exploitation, reducing youth drug and alcohol use.

Contextual Safeguarding provides a child-welfare and assessment led, multi-agency problem solving response to places and groups of concern. Where hotspots of significant concern are identified through Safer Options meetings or complex strategy meetings, the Contextual Safeguarding Social Worker coordinates a place or peer group assessment and undertakes a targeted multi-agency intervention. Some examples of intervention include:

  • working with licensing and local businesses
  • changes to the CCTV/street lighting/environment
  • training for local residents in guardianship
  • setting up a parent communication groups for a peer group.

This approach complements work to improve the safeguarding and planning for individual children through existing safeguarding and early help approaches. Children should continue to receive planning and support from their social worker. Training, consultation and advice is available to professionals through the Safer Options Hub to improve the quality of our response to children and families who experience harm in the community (eg CCE, CSE, County Lines drug dealing, trafficking).

What is the history of Safer Options?

Safer Options was launched in 2018 as a community-led response in East/Central Bristol to increasing serious violence and child criminal exploitation involving young people. It was scaled up to a citywide response in 2019 after funding from the Home Office and introduction of an Avon and Somerset-wide Violence Reduction Unit in the police and integrated with our CSE and Missing response in October 2020.

Further Information

Download Bristol Safer Options Approach to Serious Youth Violence and Child Criminal Exploitation 2020–2030 This document describes the ambition to reduce Serious Youth Violence and Child Criminal Exploitation in Bristol in the coming decade, and how services, projects and communities will work together to achieve this ambition.

Download Avon and Somerset Police Violence Reduction Unit Annual Report 2020-2021

Watch the Safer Options Webinar Delivered by Becky Lewis, Strategic Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Service Manager at Bristol City Council & Charlene Richardson, Safer Options Manager. Recorded in December 2020. 

Contextual Safeguarding

Definition of Contextual Safeguarding (Firmin, 2017): Contextual Safeguarding is an approach to understanding, and responding to, young people’s experiences of significant harm beyond their families. It recognises that the different relationships that young people form in their neighbourhoods, schools and online can feature violence and abuse. Parents and carers have little influence over these contexts, and young people’s experiences of extra-familial abuse can undermine parent-child relationships.

The Keeping Bristol Safe Partnership are taking part in the University of Bedfordshire Contextual Safeguarding Scale-Up Project. The project, which began in Bristol in April 2019, is an experimental system re-design looking to operationalise Dr Carlene Firmin’s theoretical concept of contextual safeguarding. There are two levels to Contextual Safeguarding implementation:

Level 1 – the work undertaken to strengthen assessment and planning in domains outside the family home. Contextual safeguarding at this level challenges the principle that families are able to effectively safeguard their children from harm in the community when they are adolescents and when they are exposed to exploitation and violence.

Level 2 – the development of contextual pathway, assessments, planning and interventions whereby a social work assessment approach is taken to assessing the needs of a peer group or place so that the individual needs are understood in the context in which they are occurring. The theoretical principle of this approach is that you are likely to be more effective in creating change by intervening with the context in which the harm is happening than repeatedly removing and protecting individuals from that context.

In this video 'Re-writing the rules of child protection', Dr. Carlene Firmin explains the Contextual Safeguarding approach.

Find out more about the contextual safeguarding at the Contextual Safeguarding Network website

Extrafamilial Harm

Children can face a range of safeguarding issues outside the family system or home, in particular related to criminality and exploitation including (but not limited to) child sexual exploitation, child criminal exploitation, county lines drug dealing, modern slavery including trafficking, and peer-on-peer abuse/serious youth violence.

The Risk Management and Extrafamilial Abuse Guidance is intended as an aid for Children and Families practitioners working with children who may be at risk of significant harm from extra-familial factors. There is an addition guidance document for the risk management  for children in care. 

Download Risk Management and Extrafamilial abuse Guidelines 

Download Children in Care Risk Management and Extrafamilial Abuse Guidelines

Click on the drop down arrow to see further information and resources for each extrafamilial harm related safeguarding issue. 

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a type of child sexual abuse. It happens where a person or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity. This can be in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.

Free From Fear - a film designed by young people, to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation among young people.

Can you See it? - a resource about peer-on-peer sexual exploitation to raise awareness with professionals has been developed by NWG, Barnardo’s and the Met Police. 

List of CSE Services for professional services responding to Child Sexual Exploitation across Bristol. CSE resources - a variety of free resources and films for professionals

County lines is the police term for urban gangs supplying drugs to suburban areas and market and coastal towns. It involves child criminal exploitation (CCE) as gangs use children and vulnerable people to move drugs and money.

The Home Office published County Lines guidance in 2017 and a range of materials have been developed to help statutory and non-statutory staff identify victims and report concerns to protect those exploited through this criminal activity.

Home Office County Lines Guidance

County Lines posters and leaflets have a variety of resources for professionals available on their website County Lines Resources

Street conflict and involvement in gang activity can affect any young person, from any family, in any neighbourhood. Some young people are disproportionately affected by these issues. Many children growing up in the inner city areas of Bristol are at daily risk of experiencing street conflict and issues relating to gangs.

The document below describes the ambition to reduce Serious Youth Violence and Child Criminal Exploitation in Bristol in the coming decade, and how services, projects and communities will work together to achieve this ambition.

Bristol Safer Options Approach to Serious Youth Violence and Child Criminal Exploitation 2020–2030